Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ryan Theriot > Bengie Molina? Thank wOBA!

One of the stats that has actually made quite a dent in traditional baseball statistics is OPS (on-base % plus slugging %). OPS is quite useful but, as it turns out, it also leaves a lot to be desired. The main reason for that is the statistic gives equal weights to on-base percentage and slugging percentage when it shouldn’t, and furthermore, both of these statistics themselves are not without their flaws. While OBP does tell you the rate at which a player reaches base, it fails to describe how far the player reached. SLG tells you how many bases a player gained, but unfortunately, it fails to see a walk, hit by pitch, etc as a positive outcome. Also, OBP is actually more valuable than SLG. But the buck doesn’t just stop there. Slugging assumes that each base is worth 1.000, so a single is 1.000, a double 2.000 and so forth which is highly inaccurate. Well, a bunch of smart people (Tom Tango and friends) actually analyzed the true “worth” of each of these outcomes and as it turns out it’s just not that simple. One thing we know for sure is that the worst thing a hitter can do is make an out. After running all of the data, and assuming that an out is worth 0, the actual run values are as follows:

HR =1.70, 3B = 1.37, 2B = 1.08, 1B = 0.77, NIBB = 0.62

So the creator of the formula used these values and applied them to each player. When they did it with a league average player and divided by plate appearances, they got around .300.  Pretty nice. But, they realized if they simply multiplied by 15% they got the league average OBP…even better. The statistic is now scaled to OBP so league average is somewhere between .330 and .340 (like OBP). The new values and statistic is now:

(0.72xNIBB + 0.75xHBP + 0.90x1B + 0.92xRBOE + 1.24x2B + 1.56x3B + 1.95xHR) / PA

*NIBB = Non-Intentional Walk, HBP = Hit by Pitch, 1B = Single, RBOE = Reached base on error, 2B = double, 3B = triple, HR = Homerun and PA = Plate Appearance

Some might be wondering, why is someone rewarded for reached base on error? Well, because it’s actually possible to create errors, kind of. For example, if Bengie Molina hits the ball on the ground anywhere it’s an automatic out if the fielder can get to it. On the other hand, if Chone Figgins hits the ball directly at the short stop and he bobbles it, Figgins may reach on an error. His batting average isn’t rewarded for this in anyway but he has helped his team and in a way Molina never could hope to. And as it turns out, this outcome is actually worth more than a single. Go figure.

Continuing my bashing of Bengie Molina, allow me to show you how his terrible OBP can be quite detrimental. Bengie Molina posted a .727 OPS in 2009, which isn’t very good. Ryan Theriot managed to post an even lower OPS of .712 in 2009. He must be the inferior offensive player. Wrong. Molina’s wOBA is actually .308 to Theriot’s .318. Though Theriot slugged 73 points less than Molina, his OBP was 58 points higher, and, wOBA shows us that his 58 OBP points to Molina’s 73 slugging points were actually worth an additional 10 points in wOBA. This is just a quick example and a good way to illustrate just how much Molina’s extraordinary out making skills truly do hurt his team, offensively of course.

Why am I telling you this? Well, if you like to read my posts here at PaapFly, you better get used to wOBA because I’ll probably start implementing it into them more often. My goal is to not only expand my knowledge of sabermetrics and baseball statistical analysis, but also each of yours. Lastly, I don’t dislike Molina nearly as much as it may seem. He’s actually a somewhat useful player in that he’s neither a terrible hitting catcher nor a terrible defensive catcher. He’s likeable, he’s durable and he plays hard. What’s not to like? Well, Molina simply represents the wrong direction that Brian Sabean has been pointing the Giants’ franchise and, because of this, Molina gets a large portion of my criticism. Sorry, Bengie.



If you want to read more on wOBA, check this and this out.

Read this...

...Two of my favorites...Rob Neyer comments on Dave Cameron's FanGraphs post on how *gasp* older players are actually being undervalued now. 

Another good one by Neyer on the (on-base specialist) Molina signing.  He somewhat reiterates my sentiment, the signing wasn't great because, though Molina is well worth $4.5 mil, the Giants have limited funds and a player capable of replacing him for $4 mil less.

I may do a post later on the Giants' prospects and where they've graded out on multiple lists (I'd like to wait for Baseball America's list).  Here is's (John Mayo) Top 50 Prospects list.  Here is Keith Law's Top 100.  

Jason Stark wrote about this statement from the MLBPA, Florida Marlins and Major League Baseball.  Jason posit's here that this statement could be the beginnings of the biggest battle during the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Neyer also chimed in on this a while back.

I like Stark's idea to have an award for the leagues best relief pitcher.  It'll give everyone more to discuss during award season along with the MVP and Cy Young Awards.  Neyer agreed with Stark, too.

Farewell to a Good Giant

Randy Winn officially signed with the Bronx Bombers this week. He got a 1 year deal worth $2 mil guaranteed. More importantly than the money, he may have punched his first ticket to the playoffs. The Yankees had the best assembled team in MLB in 2009 and brought back title #27 with it. Much of the strength of that team will return (Teixera, Rodriguez, Posada, Rivera, Cano, Swisher, Sabbathia, Burnett, Hughes, Pettite and of course the Captain himself – Jeter). The Yankees lost World Series MVP Hideki Matsui (who is basically a full time DH at this point) and the perennially productive Johnny Damon. But, they also acquired Curtis Granderson from the Tigers (sending CF prospect Austin Jackson to Detroit and Ian Kennedy to Arizona), traded for one of the most dominant 2009 NL starters in Javier Vasquez and now have added Winn. Winn will no doubt be a quality 4th outfielder (if for his ability to excellently play the corner outfield positions and center adequately alone) with a chance of Winning the everyday LF job. My one criticism is that it didn’t exactly seem to fit them perfectly and I think it probably became workable to Cashman because he came cheap and only for 1 season, opening the possibility for the Bombers to sing Carl Crawford next winter as he becomes a free agent. The Yankees were said to be looking for a right handed hitting outfielder. Brett Gardner will play the position quite well but has trouble with lefties. While Winn has been almost identical hitting from both the left and right side over his career, he was absolutely abysmal in 2009 against left handed pitching*.  Furthermore, Granderson is outstanding against RHP but can't hit a lick against LHP. I have to believe the Yankees feel or at least are hoping Winn's woes against lefties won't continue. Girardi will enter the spring wearing the No. 28 jersey in the hopes to bringing a 28th title to the Bronx. Girardi should feel confident with that goal in mind as it appears the Yankees will no doubt yet again be a powerhouse in the AL East. Randy Winn is the longest tenured active player (1,601 career games) without a single postseason appearance. Perhaps Randy can thank the likes of two of my favorite punching bags – Bill Bavasi and Brian Sabean – both of which were unable to surround Winn with enough quality players to propel him and his teammates to the postseason. His younger days were of course spent in the dark ages of the previous Devil Ray franchise.

*What was quite curious in 2009 was how Bochy continued to frequently play Winn against lefties despite the fact that he looked as if he’d never hit right handed in his life all season. Making it worse was the fact that by doing this, Bochy left Schierholtz on the bench who despite being a left handed hitter was handling lefties even better than righties throughout the season. It was a small sample of course and could have been a fluke, however, Schierholtz hit 3 of his 5 homerun against lefties and OPS’d 1.027 vs. .626 despite only logging 54 AB’s vs. 231 AB’s against righties. This is something that Bochy should keep an eye on in 2010. It’s a major plus to have a pure lefty handle lefty pitching so well. His OPS vs. RHP is frightening, though. So I looked up how he’d done in 2007 and 2008 in the big leagues and it was more or less the same story, though again in small samples. So then I looked up his minor leagues splits and discovered that over his minor league career he has handled LHP and RHP similarly and I would probably give him the edge versus righties, which is typically to be expected. For whatever reason, the RHP in MLB have found a way to severely exploit his weaknesses. Having watched so many games, I would have to say that his weakness is the down and in breaking stuff. He (like most of the Giants’ prospect lefties) have a huge hole down and in. And, in the major leagues, the pitchers can hit that spot nearly every time. Furthermore, they will continue to do so until he simply learns to lay off it.

I’d like to congratulate the Yankees for scooping a stand up guy and quality player. After close examination, Winn is actually one of the brightest spots of Brian Sabean’s tenure, a steal in terms of the trade that landed him as well as the salary he was paid while on the Giants. Sabean flipped Jesse Foppert (a once very highly regarded “can’t miss” top tier pitching prospect) who was coming off Tommy John surgery along with backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba at just the right time, i.e. just before Foppert was truly to turn into a pumpkin as he was the key to the trade. Bavasi: “Jesse has a better upside than any of the other pitchers with other clubs that we talked to about Randy Winn. We could end up with a real fine pitcher who was on his way to a real nice career before Tommy John surgery. But it’s a gamble, a real gamble.” And a gamble it was, one that really shows just how poorly Bavasi did in his tenure with Seattle.

As soon as Winn arrived in San Francisco he started tattooing the ball all over the park for the remainder of 2005. He had 6 HR though 102 games for the Mariners but hit 14 more for the Giants in just 58 games. It was definitely the most scorching hot that Winn would ever get in his career. Over those 58 games he had a Pujolsian OPS of 1.071 and played solidly in CF. Over the roughly 4 and a half seasons Winn played for the Giants he was paid a total of around $31 mil but racked up about $55 mil in value according to FanGraphs (see here) due largely to his outstanding defense. His best overall year came in 2008 when he probably deserved a gold glove for his masterful defense in the incredibly difficult right field of AT&T and his greater than league average hitting. And you can’t talk about how valuable he was until you mention how efficient he became as a base stealer. Winn swiped 25 bags in 2008 while only being caught twice. He was, without question, very useful.

I’m a bit sad to see fellow Santa Clara alum Winn go. I wish him the best of luck in his quest to seeing some October baseball for the first time, though I certainly won’t say that I hope it ends in a World Series ring. The thought of watching yet another Yankees dynasty makes me cringe. And if Mauer somehow is wearing the pinstripes in 2011, I may have to start following Cricket.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Steroids vs. Amphetamines

I’ve heard over and over the argument that there’s a double standard when it comes to the writers’ stance on steroids and amphetamines. It’s very unusual that I will disagree with Rob Neyer, but in this case I do. He says “that steroid guys have been held to a completely different standard than amphetamine guys. And…there's little reason for doing that.” There is little reason? I couldn’t disagree more.

This isn’t simply a case of a double standard because we’re not comparing likeness. Amphetamines don’t do for ballplayers what steroids do. They’re not apples to apples and they aren’t even the equivalent of apples to oranges. We’re certainly not holding one era of baseball players to a different standard than the other. The fact of the matter is that while both steroids and amphetamines are both performance enhancers, the gap between the effects of one vs. the effect of the other is so great that they should never ever be uttered in the same conversation. Well, that is probably going too far. But I do take exception with making the argument that it isn’t fair to disallow the steroid players into the Hall when writers have allowed the greenies players into the Hall without hesitation.

Now if my dad walked into my room while I was in grade school and caught me smoking a little weed (or in his words, reefer), I’m sure he wouldn’t have been thrilled or condoned it but he wouldn’t have gotten hysterical either. Had he walked into my room in grade school and saw me shooting up some heroine I think he probably would have dropped dead. They are both drugs and both illegal but there’s clearly a chasm between the effects of one and the effects of the other. It’s my opinion that the gap between amphetamines and steroids (regarding their ability to enhance a baseball player’s performance) and the gap between the effects of marijuana and heroine is similar. That is to say it’s a huge gap. You can certainly understand why a parent would make a big huff about their child using heroine and not pot and I think you can certainly understand why a writer could (and in my opinion should) make a big huff about players using steroids but not amphetamines.

I agree with the large majority of the argument. Amphetamines, like steroids, were both illegal and against the rules of baseball. Amphetamines, like steroids, enhance performance. Unfortunately, the comparisons really end there which lends to my stance (and obviously the writers’) that steroid users should be scrutinized much more so than amphetamine users.

I also want to make one more thing very clear. I don’t think a steroid admission should be a deal breaker on entrance to Cooperstown. Moreover, I don’t even blame the players for using them. I just feel the writers owe it the game and the players of the past to dissect the statistics and body of work of players from the steroid era much more so than they did for players that used amphetamines. And when Neyer says that he believes McGwire was a Hall of Famer with or without the steroids I have no problem with that. And when an old time writer says he refuses to vote for any player linked to steroids I can certainly understand where he’s coming from. The bottom line is that perhaps some people are being a little too lenient and others are too harsh. It remains to be seen if we will ever arrive to any consensus on this subject but my gut feeling is that we will not. The only thing that I’m truly convinced of is what a terrible mess steroids have created.

What I'm reading...

Here are some links on what I've read and loved recently:

Baseball Prospectus sat down with Jack Zduriencik and gave an awesome interview shedding a little bit of light on the Mariners' (Zduriencik's) new philosophies.

Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs is very excited about Daniel Nava, the first pick of his developing All-Joy team.  This is interesting because I myself have faced (pitched against) Nava while playing for DeAnza College.  He was an incredibly tough out back then.  See us both here on the 2005 All-Conference Team.
An older link written by Rob Neyer on why Tim Raines should easily walk into the Halll of Fame.
This has been out since the end of November, but here are the Giants Top 10 Prospects according to Baseball America.
A 4 part series by the newest author on FanGraphs (Bryan Smith) which he posit's "...that no type of minor leaguer is typically as undervalued as the right-handed sinker-slider brigade,..."
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Final Part

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Did Lincecum camp bait Giants?

There were some rumors swirling around the internet that some baseball experts fathomed Tim Lincecum might request around $20 mil via arbitration. Mlbtraderumors reported that MLB.coim’s Doug Miller said that whispers of a $20 mil arbitration award “echoed loudly throughout baseball.” This is completely and utterly ludicrous. No one with any common sense or knowledge of the business of baseball in their right mind would have truly believed that Lincecum would request such a large sum in his first year of arbitration. To do so would have ensured that the teams (the Giants’) figure would have been selected during the hearing.

They did exchange figures today and Lincecum is requesting the more reasonable sum of $13 mil and the Giants have requested that $8 mil be their Ace’s 2010 salary. The wide belief among FanGraph’s voters yesterday was that Lincecum would submit a $14-15 mil salary. And just yesterday, I surmised that both Lincecum and the Giants would both submit numbers between $12 mil and $16 mil. I was right about Tim and wrong about the Giants. My first thoughts were: “The Giants lowballed Tim and he’s going to win easily.” This was my gut reaction.

After a while I began to believe that neither the figure Lincecum requested nor that of the Giants is that outlandish. You can make an argument for both. I must admit that I was somewhat armed with the knowledge that 1st year arbitration players usually receive about 40% of their free agent market value having read Jack Moore's post on FanGraphs. So, you could probably hypothesize Lincecum would make at least $18 mil were he a free agent. I’d argue he would command a salary more like that of C.C. Sabbathia who is getting $23 mil a year from the Bronx Bombers. If that were the case, 40% of his market value would be $9.2 mil. If his value were $18 mil, we get $7.2. So, if the 40% estimate holds true the Giants have a decent case and may well win during the arbitration hearing. Then again, they may not.

Why? Before the 2008 season Ryan Howard filed for a record $10 mil while the Phillies countered with $7 mil. Howard had a Rookie of the Year and MVP trophy under his belt and won his arbitration case. One has to ask the question. Which is more valuable? A RoY and MVP or back to back Cy Young’s? I have to believe the Cy Young’s are because one Cy Young is certainly more valuable than one RoY and Lincecum proved to be the most dominant pitcher in the NL (and arguably in all of baseball) in back to back years. Furthermore, Lincecum has performed so incredibly on a quite poor 2008 team and a decent while not dominant 2009 team whereas Howard’s teammates afford him a clearer way to pad his stats. For example, were it not for the Chase Utley constantly being on base in front of Howard he most certainly would not be racking up those extraordinary RBI numbers. The RBI, of course, being one of the main stats baseball traditionalists have sunk their claws into and are hanging on for dear life. Lastly, while there are a handful of slugging first baseman (not even counting the rest of the position players) in Pujols, Fielder, Gonzalez and Howard, it certainly seems to me there are fewer Tim Lincecum’s to go around and you’d probably have to pull them from both the AL and NL to come up with a list longer than one you can count on one hand. Lincecum is one of a kind in many cases, and performance wise, much more so than Howard.

I’ve developed somewhat of a theory (albeit probably a completely unverifiable one) on the psychology behind each of their (Tim’s and the Giants’) picks. First of all, I wondered why right off the bat the Giants would choose such a seemingly low number. $8 mil? Really? Had they not learned from the Howard case that such a lower number would certainly lose them their case? I then had this idea. Because there had been chatter that Lincecum might file a number as high as $23 mil, perhaps the Giants truly believed he would. And if he had the $8 mil would seem so much more reasonable than $20 mil. I assure you that the arbiter would choose $8 mil over $20 mil and it wouldn’t take him more than a moment to make a decision. I think it’s possible that the Lincecum camp baited the Giants into low balling their Ace so that they could file a record salary and win. Afterall, $13 mil would be the record setting salary for a 1st year eligible player in arbitration by 30% and I am sure Tim would be more than happy with it. And this is exactly what I believe will happen unless one of two things happen. 1) The Giants and Lincecum settle at a middle figure before the hearing or 2) now that they’ve exchanged figures they hammer out a long-term deal. What’s crazy in all this and worth noting, however, is that had the Giants waited just 2 weeks longer to promote Lincecum in 2007 they could have postponed his arbitration until next year. Which makes me wonder, who holds the record salary for a 1st year eligible super two? If anyone knows, give me the goods.

Check here for a list of all the figures players and teams exchanged today, including Brian Wilson ($4.85 mil vs. $4 mil)

I guess Keith Law agress that Lincecum will win this case.  In fact, he believes they underfiled and probably finds the Giants' request of $8 mil ludicrous.

Keith Law

Lincecum's camp is making a mistake
"I'd like to see the arbitration brief that argues that Lincecum, a first-time-eligible, super-two free agent with two Cy Young Awards, should be paid less than Ryan Howard was as a first-time-eligible free agent with one MVP award. Not just less -- $2 million less. If anything, Lincecum's agents underfiled; his case was unprecedented and a number of $15-18 million would have been defensible."

Catching up

In the same day that Tim Lincecum appeared in a Vancouver, Washington courtroom to put an end to his October misdemeanor charges (which were reduced to a civil infraction and $513 fine) and asked for $13 M in salary arbitration (the Giants are hoping to pay a figure of $8 M); the Giants did the unthinkable and resigned their starting catcher of the past 3 seasons (and cleanup hitter of the last 2) for one year and $4.5 mil. It appears they will be catching up with Molina a lot sooner than originally thought.

Brian Sabean believed way back in October that Molina would leave the city by the bay for a more lucrative offer (he was fairly hotly coveted by the other oft criticized GM by the saber community, Omar Minaya (Mets)). However, Molina was reported to of declined their latest offer in the last 24 hours. I don’t think the details are yet known, but it seems that Molina and the Mets never could quite agree on dollars are probably more so guaranteed years. Molina was asking for somewhere between 2-3 years and the Mets only willing to offer 1-2.

Surprisingly, after I looked at the numbers, he was worth more than I thought in 2008 and 2009. He was paid about $6.5 mil a season but was worth (according to fangraphs) $13.3 mil in 2008 and $8.1 mil in 2009. Of course, players are rarely paid what they are actually worth. For example, Lincecum was worth $33 mil in 2008 and $37 mil in 2009. Some players are worth negative values if they are seen to be below “replacement level.”
There currently are no reliable defensive metrics for catchers (UZR, etc). FanGraphs doesn’t even bother listing defensive value for catchers. So, when compiling his value he is considered equal amongst his peers defensively. This probably isn’t the case. Though he did not win the 2009 AL Gold Glove, most advanced scouts believed Gerald Laird to be the best defensive catcher in the AL. Thus his true value would probably exceed that listed by FanGraphs. In terms of Molina, he no longer is particularly good at throwing out runners (though pitchers like Lincecum don’t do him any favors) and at times looks more than a little lazy. He simply doesn’t block the ball well anymore. Furthermore, any player at a skill position (C, SS, 2B, 3B, CF in this order) gets additional value points for simply playing that position. For C (12.5 runs) and SS (7.5 runs), that extra value is pretty substantial (especially when compared to 1B (-12.5 runs) and DH (-17.5 runs) which both get negative values. And because we have no reliable defensive statistic for the C position, Molina is awarded the full 12.5 runs. For other positions, their total value is either diminished or added to depending on their UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). For example, Adrian Belte’s total value is his offensive value, the 2.5 runs for playing third base and his UZR. Now, one could argue that were Molina an above average defensive catcher his full value is not properly being displayed by FanGraphs. But I don’t know anyone that would attempt to argue that. On the plus side I will say that he’s been quite durable for the Giants.

All in all, Molina is a perfectly fine hitting catcher, especially because most catchers are pretty terrible hitters. My problems are 1) I believe he is at least a lazy catcher 2) I think Bochy might be tempted to continue to hit him cleanup 3) He’s sensitive and sure to complain and gripe if Posey is brought up and 4) the Giants have Buster Posey. Posey who is going to cost $400 K in 2010. I have in the past and will continue to argue that Posey should be able to at least replace Molina statistically if not exceed his contributions.

I do believe this is a clear misallocation of resources. The Giants clearly have a finite amount of money to upgrade their team and I don’t think $4.5 mil towards a catcher, when the Giants already have a catcher capable of equaling his production or exceeding it at a cost of $400k, is money well spent.

Anyway… the Giants clearly hold different evaluations for players than I (or most the rest of baseball) and so it shouldn’t be seen as a surprise. Plus, I’m sure Bochy and Sabean will argue this gives them a good mentor for Posey. Catcher is quite a tricky position (and one which Bochy himself played) and so they probably do have some point. But I am sure to some degree they are overplaying the importance of having a veteran backstop to mentor Posey and anchor the pitching staff. Furthermore, had Posey been given more of an opportunity to settle in offensively (via pinch hitting) and as a catcher (after the Giants were eliminated) down the stretch in 2009 they’d probably have a much better idea of what they could expect in 2010.

On the upside, they’ve reduced their risk to pretty much 0% at the catcher position which can’t be all horrible with all the question marks (see my previous post) they currently have on the roster. What’s more? Sabean will probably take comfort when the bay area writers uniformly praise the Giants for this move.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Giant questions mounting

Sabean set out to improve the offense for 2010 and in my opinion he did succeed to that end. Unfortunately, because he doesn’t appear to fully grasp the importance of a well-rounded player he may have failed in actually improving the team. You could probably make a solid argument he doesn’t place correct values on hitting or defense. Opening day, unless something else changes, should look something like this.

1. Rowand (0,+)
2. Sanchez (+)
3. Sandoval (-)
4. Huff (-)
5. DeRosa (0, -)
6. Schierholtz (+)
7. Renteria (-)
8. Posey (?)

Glove = (Bad (-), Average (0), Good (+))

1- Allow me to dissect. The very idea of having Aaron Rowand bat leadoff is something that only Sabean and Bochy could conjure up. Rowand doesn’t run all that well (at the very least in terms of stealing bases) and certainly isn’t going to get on base at a even a respectable enough clip to warrant leadoff consideration. But, as we learned from Sabean’s refusal to offer Garko arbitration, he has little difficulty making determinations with miniscule sample sizes. Rowand had a very nice couple of months hitting leadoff in 2009, so he must be the best option for leadoff in 2010. Garko didn’t hit well in 127 sporadically placed plate appearances for the Giants (despite having done so regularly in 1,587 other plate appearances in his career), so he’s a terrible player not worthy enough to tender a contract. I shall return to Garko. Fred Lewis should probably be hitting leadoff and playing left field (moving Schierholtz to the bench and DeRosa to right where he’s surprisingly played best defensively throughout his career). Lewis is one of the few Giants that has actually shown the ability to consistently get on base (his is OBP in 2009 was second to only Pablo) and couple that with excellent speed. But for whatever reason it appears that the Giants have soured on Lewis (and he possibly he on them) and will either earn a bench spot or perhaps be dealt before Spring Training. I did read that Bochy acknowledged he would be a good fit at leadoff but apparently Lewis said he wasn’t comfortable hitting 1st. Personally, I would be inclined to say; who cares? Lewis could probably learn to get comfortable there, especially if he felt the Giants were going to play him every day. Why is that? Something tells me he’s more comfortable at leadoff then on the bench. Rowand has been an excellent center fielder in the past (such as 2007 where UZR and the Gold Glove voters agreed) but at this point is probably average to a bit above average. Giants fans will also probably note that he has a tendency to miss the cutoff man and thus unnecessarily allow free extra bases. He’s clearly lost a step or two and as he ages over the final 3 years of his contract I’d be extremely surprised if his defense improves to the level it once was.

2- Assuming Sanchez stays healthy he will hit second. This is where the question marks begin. The hope is that Sanchez will be healthy to play most of the season but he is one of a few players (DeRosa & Renteria also) coming off surgeries. The Giants are probably hoping for something like the batting title Sanchez but unfortunately that was a career year and aberration. The 2 hitter should be someone that’s capable of handling the bat in a variety of capacities (bunting, hit and run, etc). With this I have at least relative confidence. But also, a 2 hitter should be able to get on base at a respectable rate. This worries me with Sanchez. The 2 hitter stands to get the second most AB’s during the course of a season, and thus, having a player who makes a lot of outs is a liability. Aside from Sanchez’ 2006 in which he hit .344 and got on base at .378; he’s never been particularly adept at reaching base because he doesn’t walk very often. Though he may be Bochy’s ideal 2 hitter, he’s not mine. I’d probably hit DeRosa here. Defensively, Sanchez posts quality UZR numbers at second and should stand to be one of the few Giants that plays above average at his position. That being said, I’d be concerned that he may have lost a step or two with the surgery and his age may soon start to show as well.

3- At least they got this one right. Panda should hit 3rd. Panda’s weakness of course is his glove. He’s too big to play the hot corner so he lacks range. Also, he made a fair number of errors in 2009 so he certainly won’t make all the plays. He’s much more suited to play 1st and will eventually end up there. Unless, he truly does lose the weight the Giants have requested him to (and which he did before gaining most of it back over Christmas in Venezuela). He might then be an average fielder at the hot corner.

4- What is Sabean Huffing? Again in 2010 the Giants won’t have a very formidable middle of the order lineup. Given the players on the roster I might hit Huff here as well, but he’s far from ideal. Huff is well into his regression years and coming off the worst year in his career (he didn’t even break a .700 OPS). While it’s probably a safe bet to assume he will have a better 2010 than 2009, he still isn’t the middle of the order bat the Giants so desperately require to contend. Huff should hit for decent power overall but AT&T isn’t going to do him any favors (albeit his humor when he said something along the lines of, “If Bonds can hit HR here, so can I”). He is, however, a better option at cleanup then Bengie Molina. He will get on base far more often and hit for at least comparable power. Huff had a monster 2008 season (32 HR and .900 + OPS) with the bat before laying an egg in 2009, so Giants fans can start praying for ’08 Huff now. It’s more likely that his numbers for 2010 will end up somewhere in between the two seasons. He really is another huge question mark in this lineup. I don’t think anyone would really be able to predict what the Giants will get, except for a crummy glove because he can’t play defense. His work at first will pale in comparison to that which Travis Ishikawa is capable of. What’s strange about the Huff signing is that Garko would probably hit about as well as Huff in 2010, earn a similar salary in arbitration and play defense quite similarly. I guess you could say has more upside, but then again, he probably has more downside too.

5- DeRosa would probably be more valuable batting second but hitting him 5th isn’t half bad. DeRosa has decent pop and I did like him as a signing. He should be able to post a pretty decent OBP while also accumulating a good number of doubles and respectable HR totals. But DeRosa, like Sanchez, is also coming off surgery. Wrist surgery no less. Wrists can be quite finicky (and are also obviously quite important to hit). DeRosa will have to remain somewhat of a question mark because of his surgery. Here’s to hoping he’s healthy and productive in 2010. DeRosa won’t embarrass himself with the glove but he won’t be mistaken for Carl Crawford, either. UZR actually shows that DeRosa’s best defensive position is RF but I’m fairly confident the Giants don’t plan to play him there. They will more likely go with Nate Schierholtz who is the better defensive option in RF. Again, were it me I’d have DeRosa in RF and Lewis in LF, but you can probably forget about that.

6- Schierholtz will compete for an everyday job with John Bowker, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres and maybe a an invite or two. Eric Byrnes* has expressed serious interest in the hometown Giants and I’d certainly be willing to see what he has left for the league minimum or slightly above that. Schierholtz has to be the favorite for a couple of reasons going into the spring. He plays excellent defense and his strong accurate arm help him to do so. Offensively, he really hasn’t shown the power he displayed in the minors and that which he showcases in batting practice. His real weakness is that he doesn’t walk hardly at all and thus must rely on posting a very high average to limit the number of outs he makes. On the plus side, Schierholtz has proven to hit lefties extremely well (he actually faired better hitting lefties in 2009) and thus doesn’t require a platoon. Somehow Bochy failed to realize this in 2009 and kept sitting him against lefties. Go figure? I can envision 2010 being very fluid in terms of which players are playing the corner outfield positions for the Giants. This position is another unfortunate question mark.

*Eric Byrnes did a lot of things well before being derailed by injuries the last two seasons after signing a 3 year $30 mil extension with the Dbacks. He was released when Arizona signed Laroche (to $11 mil less guaranteed after he passed on the Giants –Whoops!). Byrnes was a darn good outfielder when healthy. He was also a guy that could steal bases and hit for power. As I said, he did a lot of things quite well. I’d be willing to spend a few dollars to see if he still can.

7- Renteria will be looking to rebound in 2010. He will also hopefully be healthy after coming off of surgery to remove bone spurs. I would be pretty shocked if he repeats his 2009 campaign offensively. He hasn’t aged particularly well and no longer plays a solid SS. His range has greatly diminished over the years and it is clear now that his bat will not make up for the lack of glove. I would expect Renteria to hit for more power and average in 2010 but wouldn’t exactly bet my life savings on it. If he continues on the path he did in 2009, there’s a strong likelihood he is replaced by Juan Uribe. Some Giants fans will urge for this to happen sooner rather than later, however, they are probably assuming Uribe will produce offensively in 2010 as he did in 2009. This is unlikely. I don’t expect SS to be a particularly productive position for the Giants in 2010.

8- The Giants No. 8 hitter will likely be their catcher and right now it appears that job will go to Buster Posey. If not Posey, the Giants will look to Yorvit Torrealba or a comparable player to keep the seat warm for the Giants’ future star catcher (at least we’re hoping). Oddly, though Posey has only accumulated 17 plate appearances in the bigs and caught a handful of innings, I’m almost more comfortable with him than most of the rest of the lineup. He too will have to remain a question mark if only because a prospect will remain just that until he either ascends to stardom or becomes a dud. Let’s hope for the former. Luckily, Posey is a very projectable and high probability prospect. It’s a good bet he will be a quality everyday catcher with upside that he can someday soon be an All-Star. I earlier wrote a post on Posey in which I argued he could somewhat easily replace the offense of Bengie Molina. I have not waivered on that belief. I also believe that Molina was a lazy catcher (my belief was seconded by Keith Law among others) while Posey has a chance of being a very quality defender. He has a better arm and is athletic. His major question mark will be his ability to catch and lead the Giants’ stellar pitching staff. Despite the consensus among the baseball and scouting community that he is ready the Giants seem fairly convinced that he is not.

The real problem with the new look Giants isn’t really what you might expect. It’s not just the lineup that’s now suspect but it’s also the defense. The offense has improved incrementally and the defense is in much worse shape. While Winn performed horribly offensively last season he played incredible defense. Ishikawa sure didn’t hit like a 1st baseman but he played it like another we recall so fondly, J.T. Snow. The Giants’ defense was one of its greatest strengths in 2009 and certainly helped the outstanding pitching. That strength is now more so a question mark in some cases and, at best, incrementally worse (though I’d probably have to argue it’s much worse). I’ll say this. It is fortunate the Giants’ staff is filled with strikeout pitchers. They will have to pitch better in 2010 to even equal what they achieved in 2009 in terms of run prevention.

I try to be cautiously optimistic in most cases but I’m afraid I’ve got some gloomy predictions for the Gigantes faithful. The Giants’ front office (run by Sabean and Co.) lacks the creativity and statistical competence to compete with their current budget. They aren’t willing to spend more than around $90 mil and they aren’t getting bang for their buck where they have spent. If not for Lincecum and Panda, I’d hate to even hypothesize where this franchise would be right now. It is their recent surge in player development that has kept them afloat (I believe run by John Barr and Dick Tidrow) over the last couple of seasons and most notably last year. It certainly hasn’t been the ingenuity of their General Manager. No, I’d say the Giants competed in 2009 in spite of Brian Sabean, not because of him. What does this mean? Sabean will be around for at least one more season and probably two given his recent extension. The Giants will probably hang around in 2010 and maybe 2011 but may not get over the hump. When this happens, Sabean will at long last be tendered his swift kick in the a** out the door at which point the Giants will hopefully replace him (I hope under the direction of the smart business man Bill Neukom) with a GM that understands the importance of squinting at a laptop to at least supplement personnel decisions and finally join the other 28-29 teams in Major League Baseball in the 20th Century.

While this isn’t the ideal situation and it’s painful to imagine waiting any longer to watch Giants postseason baseball, it might well be worth it if for nothing more than to say good riddance to the longest tenured GM in baseball. Hopefully such a change will come before Tim Linceum decides to jump a sinking ship. That gives the Giants four seasons to right the ship. For now, we’ll keep doing our due diligence and kicking the tires on professional hitters with a track record for accumulating RBI. And yes, in case you were wondering, I’ve been called ornery my whole life and been known to be facetious from time to time.


Perhaps the biggest question mark of the offseason is…What will Tim Lincecum make in 2010? Timmy is primed to break the arbitration record ($10 mil) set by Ryan Howard after his MVP season. Tim has back to back Cy Young’s under his belt in his first two seasons and has arguably been the best pitcher in MLB two years running. There has been some chatter that Lincecum will file for $20 mil but I highly doubt that will be the case. In the arbitration process, the team and player file their requested figures and don’t tip their hand until that point. After the figures have been exchanged, they can start or continue to negotiate to attempt to find some middle ground. If they can’t the case goes to arbitration in which both parties state their cases on what the player should ultimately be paid. No middle figure is selected. Instead, the arbiter chooses the figure he believes to be closer to the players actual value. Because of this both the Giants and Lincecum won’t want to lowball or highball the other which would risk their ability to win the case. I’ll bet they both file figures between $12 and $16 million. The arbitration process is somewhat undesirable because the team is forced to express the weaknesses of their player. In this case, their Franchise player. I hope the two can come to terms with an equitable agreement prior to the hearing but it seems destined to end there. Though Lincecum and his agent have said to this point they wish to go on a year to year basis I certainly would prefer them to sit down and ink a long term deal (perhaps even buying out his first 1-2 years of free agency). I’d like nothing more than to see the little Ace in Orange and Black for years to come. While Lincecum will maximize his annual salary via arbitration, he could instead opt to lower his risk and guarantee himself a certain sum over a 4 year period. This seems the wiser of the two options. Given all my pessimism thus far in my post, here’s a little silver lining. If Lincecum does indeed choose to go year to year I have to assume he feels quite confident he can continue his unheralded success. I don’t believe I am the only Giants fan that was at least a little concerned by Tim’s short bout with a locked up back and slight dip in velocity towards the end of last season. If he’s willing to go year to year, you’d have to assume he feels healthy and great and should continue to pitch in Cy Young form. In any event, the Giants control Lincecum for at least 4 more seasons, though it seems they will have no ability to control his skyrocketing salary. And those salary figures? They’ll be public tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Moneyball (and Beane) Evolving

In somewhat of a surprise, Billy Beane traded for a player that seemingly doesn’t fit the very Moneyball approach that he used to fight his way to the elite in the AL in the early 2000’s. recently featured an article from fangraphs written by Dave Cameron about this very phenomenon we’ve seen this offseason, a concerted effort by the so called Sabermetric franchises to improve their run prevention. The Boston Red Sox were a slugging team last year, the same mold they used in 2004 and 2007 to bring home World Series’. Last year they apparently had one of the worst overall defenses in baseball. Theo Epstein saw this (coupled with the fact that defense is currently under evaluated and undervalued), and made several strategic moves to improve the defensive prowess of his squad. Theo grabbed up Mike Cameron. Cameron is a good offensive player and an absolute vacuum in center field despite being 36 years old. This allows him to shift Jacoby Ellsbury over to left field where his weak arm will play better and he can certainly improve on his UZR which he had quite poor marks in 2009. Also, Theo grabbed Adrian Beltre to play the hot corner despite owing the ailing Mike Lowell around $12 mil in 2010. Beltre is a perennial gold glove candidate (he won in ’07 and ’08) whose skill in the field is undeniable. Scouts and UZR agree in this particular case. He then gave the contract he offered Matt Holliday ($82.5 mil) to John Lackey. In Moneyball, we learned that Billy Beane would stop at nothing to put a thoughtful hitter into the lineup (one who takes pitches and walks), even if it meant that the players glove was an absolute clunker. It’s clear that while, assuredly, he still is using the same philosophies he used during the early part of the last decade; they’ve evolved.

Kevin Kouzmanoff doesn’t do well that which Beane previously coveted so much in years past, get on base. In fact, Kouz barely kept his OBP above .300 in 2009. But before you think Beane has somehow swapped philosophies and lost his mind, it’s necessary to examine his thought process further. First of all, Beane lacked a player that could adequately play third base. He acquired Jack Fox from the Cubs earlier in the offseason, but Fox is more of a DH/ 1B type. Beane also has Eric Chavez to turn to. Oh, you probably assumed he was retired. Chavez hasn’t stayed healthy in several years and Beane has no confidence that that recent trend won’t continue. Smart bet. Kouz, like Beltre, is a pretty nice third baseman. He had his best UZR year in 2009 and broke the record for 3B fielding percentage which resulted in his glove heading to Cooperstown. He doesn’t have tremendous range but given his fielding percentage you can bet he makes just about every single play. Offensively, he’s not half bad either. His OPS doesn’t look like much but after taking a look at how he has performed on the road vs. at home you can see why his numbers don’t jump off the page.

Split: HR/ OPS

Home: 5/ .743
Away: 13/ .823

Home: 11/ .658
Away: 12/ .802

Home: 9/ .662
Away: 9/ .778

Kouz has horrendous home/ road splits because he plays half his games at the worst hitters park in MLB, Petco Park. On the road he is good for around an .800 OPS and more homerun power as well. He isn’t moving to a good hitters park, but the Coliseum will play smaller than Petco. Also, he will be moving to the tougher league so we should account for that as well.

Beane gave up Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. Cunningham was a AAA player in 2009 and has nothing left to prove there. He has around a .900 career OPS in AAA but doesn’t have a great deal of power. Some felt Cunningham was a fairly steep price for Beane to give up (given that he has 6 more years of team control) but Beane probably has his reasons. What might those be? Beane may have soured on Cunningham or he may simply have had too many outfielders. I think it’s probably the latter. Beane already has the means to field 3 virtual center fielders in 2010. He signed Coco Crisp and still has Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney. That’s a pretty stellar defensive group. He’s also got the quality defender Travis Buck to back them up. Lastly, Michael Taylor (who was acquired from Toronto for Brett Wallace in the aftermath of the Halladay/ Lee blockbuster) is on the horizon. Taylor figures to be both a very nice offensive and defensive outfielder. Hairston (an OF like Cunningham) was shipped to Hoyer’s Friars too. He too was expendable because of the surplus of averageish outfielders Beane has. One has to understand that Beane handles his players more like chess pieces than human beings. He will swap any player at the drop of a hat if he feels the move will either strengthen his franchise in the short term, long term or both no matter the circumstances. Hairston is an above average corner outfielder and passable center fielder. And offensively? You won’t be terribly surprised to know that Hairston walks with similar frequency to Kouzmanoff which is to say, not very often. He too has pretty good pop but probably not quite as much lightning as Kouz. Beane also netted Eric Sogard in the trade. Sogard is a left handed hitting 2B who walks a ton (weird) but doesn’t have much pop.

All in all, Beane swapped 1 major league and 1 minor league outfielder for 1 major league and 1 minor league infielder when he needed just that, more infielders. The Major league players swapped were quite similar. Both have good power and play good defense but aren’t ideal in the sense that they don’t get on base enough. In terms of this transaction, I’d say the edge has to go to Beane/ Kouzmanoff. Beane gave up the superior minor leaguer in Cunningham but he probably felt he wouldn’t be terribly useful with Taylor’s ETA something like late 2010 or 2011. Also, while Cunningham looks to be a pretty decent contributor he’s still a prospect and thus a question mark.

This transaction does continue to show the shift in baseball towards the realization that it’s a zero sum game. As the defensive metrics become more reliable, the smartly run franchises like Boston and Oakland will look to capitalize. People have this perception that Moneyball was an approach to create a lineup with a bunch of players who got on base (or you might say made fewer outs) and little else. This is actually false. Moneyball actually was and is about attempting to acquire the undervalued. OBP used to be highly undervalued. Now that baseball realizes how important it is to avoid outs, OBP is far from undervalued. I think Beane and Theo are both realizing that the current market is undervaluing defense and are jumping on the opportunity to improve their clubs on the other side of the ball. The truly shrewd business men in baseball will continue to do this so long as such arbitrage opportunities present themselves. My personal belief is that eventually each team will use similar metrics to put values on players and statistics and the ability of teams to pounce on such instances of arbitrage will become increasingly difficult. Unfortunately, it will probably make it even more difficult for the poor franchises to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. Of course, being a Giants fan, I can hardly wait for that day to come when the Giants continue to run their front office as if the internet doesn’t exist and RBI’s are an excellent barometer for offensive production.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Mac comes clean? Nope, not close.

After disappearing completely for 8 years save a Congressional Hearing appearance in 2005, Mark McGwire reemerged on Monday to finally tell us what we already knew, that he used steroids on and off for nearly a decade. While I must admit that I do appreciate the candor…wait. No I don’t really appreciate the candor. Why? Because there was no candor in any of his statements. 5 years for this? It is refreshing to hear an obvious steroid user admit his guilt, but only because it so rarely happens. It was also nice to see that he was remorseful. Even those who were caught red handed continue to parade around and risk their freedom in a desperate attempt to protect their career (see Roger Clemens). While it is nice to hear Big Mac finally admit it, his admission isn’t all that different from others’ silence and blatant denial. To me it seems his sole motive was not to finally tell the truth, but one last attempt to preserve his legacy while hopefully lessening the firestorm that was to come during Spring Training had he made the decision to continue to “not talk abut the past.”

Certain things that McGwire said stick out in my mind specifically. He said, for example, “I was given a gift to hit home runs.” He essentially said that he merely used the steroids to stay healthy (the Andy Pettitte defense) and that he would have hit as many home runs had he not used PEDs. I totally believe that. I believe that about as much as I believe that Brady Anderson didn’t use steroids in 1996 when he hit 50 HR’s despite only hitting 16 the previous year and 18 the year after and also amassing a slugging percentage of .637, more than 200 points higher than his career average. Like I said, I totally buy that. Maybe steroid use and the explosion of home runs in the late ‘90’s and early ‘00’s was a coincidence. Babe Ruth set the record for home runs in 1927 at 60. His record stood for 33 years until Roger Maris broke it in 1961. After that, Roger Maris’ record stood for 36 years until it was shattered by not only Mark McGwire but also Sammy Sosa, in the same season. And had they not broken his record in 1998 they would have broken it in 1999 because Sosa hit 63 and McGwire 65 in that season. After that, McGwire’s record stood a total of 2 seasons when Barry Bonds* hit 73 in 2001 to break it yet again. So just to tally that up, it took upwards of 30 years between breaking of the single season home run records of Ruth and Maris, after which it took only 2 seasons to break it again and in the aftermath 6 names stood ahead of Maris (and 7 men in front of Ruth) who’d held the record for over 1/3 of the century. That’s probably just a coincidence. Steroids don’t help you hit home runs. It’s 100% hand eye coordination, a shortened swing and dedication to the hitting craft.

* Barry Bonds was the best player in baseball from probably around 1990 until 1997. In 1998, while McGwire and Sosa were tallying upwards of 60 home runs, he became just one of many great players and not the greatest player. So what did he do when that angered him so much? He juiced and turned his extraordinary human body into a super human body, the result of which was by far the greatest 5 year offensive run in the history of baseball. He was extraordinary. He was so good that it honestly seemed (watching as a fan) that with each and every swing he would hit a home run. When he swung and didn’t pelt the ball, it was met with actual surprise; this in a game of failure, a game where 3 out of 10 is impressive.

McGwire also mentioned how he had good and bad seasons while on steroids, and good and bad seasons while off steroids. While I actually do buy that (to a certain extent), what seems apparent to me is that McGwire wants to position himself in a way that he might still be allowed to enter the Hall of Fame. He wants people to actually believe that his career numbers are legitimate. And it is in this need to justify his own career that he is exactly like Clemens, Bonds and the others who hide behind the wall of silence and adamant refutation.

Big Mac also made very sure to apologize…a lot. To be honest, I don’t want or need an apology. What do I or any other baseball fan need an apology for? I was actually excited when I read the headline: McGwire admits to using steroids. I was genuinely looking forward to what this man had to say after being silent for so long. I even texted my brothers and baseball buddies. Unfortunately, that excitement faded quickly as I read the statements he made in his interview. What a farce. McGwire admitted the only thing that we all already knew; he used steroids. It’s the details and the extent to which he used them that the fans deserve to know to try and make sense of this era he so conveniently blames. He took no responsibility. He refused to be accountable for what he’d done.

I’ve already forgiven him, Clemens, Bonds and every other athlete that ever took steroids. I simply don’t blame any of them one bit. I do, however, expect some honesty. They all were faced with a choice. They could have stayed clean and either continued to be average, good or in some cases even great players later into their career. Or, they could take steroids and become great or in some cases superhuman players, like Bonds. Also, while they knew the stuff was illegal they also knew they wouldn’t be tested and thus there was virtually no possibility of ever being caught. What’s more? If they took they might stand to make $1, $5, $10 or even $50 million dollars they would not make otherwise. What’s truly refreshing to hear is Hall of Fame players (men like Mike Schmidt) who did not play in the era speak realistically about how even they would have been tempted had they played in such an era. It’s amazing that the only player to seemingly tell the whole truth is the most insecure and troubled of all of them, Jose Canseco. If you’ve ever read his book Juiced you might get an idea of what I mean. Jose is a man who clearly has immense insecurities and has lived his life trying to get the recognition and pat on the back his father never gave him. This quest for self worth also probably led him to the steroids which he obviously feels helped him on that life long journey. His delusions run so deep he truly believes that he’d have gotten nowhere without them, so much so that he’s convinced himself how healthy they are.

It’s a known fact that a good number if not a majority of the players during the ‘90’s and leading up to the Mitchell Report were using steroids to enhance their bodies and athletic abilities. They were using them to heal. They were using them to maintain energy throughout the grueling 162 game schedule (much like amphetamines of the 1970’s and ‘80’s). They were also using them to gain superhuman strength and aid in hitting home runs, despite what Mark or any other may say. Everything he said on Monday needs to be taken with an extreme grain of salt.  Scratch that.  Throw everything he said in the garbage where it belongs.  It's my personal belief that the only real truth in his statements was, again, what we already knew.  The rest was riddled with cop outs and wishful allowances.  Even if a lot of it was half truths I'm not interested.  I'd rather him stay silent then watch him selfishly and tearfully apologize and request forgiveness.While I completely agree that steroids won’t help a player with hand eye coordination and pitch recognition, statements he made like, "I did this for health purposes. There's no way I did this for any type of strength use" are absolutely laughable. Tell that to the Hulk like figures of the men in the World’s Strongest Man competition., because here, we’re simply not buying it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The New "Murderer's Row?"

Chris Haft of who unfortunately writes for the page recently decided to blog about the multitude of emails he’d been receiving from fans urging the Giants to take a look at Mike Jacobs here. He actually has all of the reasons that the Giants should not even think for one second to sign this guy, but fails to elaborate on them. His first clue should have been Jacobs’ agent (John Boggs) told Haft that he “…was the first reporter to ask him about his client this winter.” I’ve read Haft’s blogs on several occasions perhaps for some combination of comedy and outrage and now most recently it seems to have fueled inspiration to write. I can no longer ignore such things as when he claimed Jason Bay was the superior outfielder to Matt Holliday and that Marlon Byrd would be a good pick up for the Giants. I simply cannot endorse most if not all of the ideas he comes up with.

Though he more or less gathers the plethora of reasons that Jacobs is a non-option the fact that he even chose to blog about it him without completely disparaging the idea shows he doesn’t fully (or possibly even partially)grasp player value. And what are the reasons? Here they are. He can’t play 1B. He can’t make consistent contact. He can’t get on base. He is a left handed hitter. The reason I mention that he is left handed? Lefties (other than Barry Bonds) don’t typically hit for power at AT&T Park and about the only thing Jacobs does well is hit for decent power. He played 1B for the Royals in 2009 only about 15 times and was DH otherwise. Why? The longer he played regularly 1B from 2005 until 2008 the worse he got. The most reliable defensive metric today is UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and according to Jacobs’ fangraphs page from 2005-08 he posted ratings of (-0.8, -2.4, -4.2, -13.6). He struck out 132 times in just 478 plate appearances for the Royals in 2009 or nearly 28% of the time, hence the reason I say he cannot make consistent contact. Lastly, he doesn’t get on base (his OBP over the last 2 seasons is less than .300) so he would fit right in with the 2009 Giants but that’s not a good thing. If you can imagine a player who strikes out about as often as Fred Lewis if not more, who has no speed, doesn’t get on base (unlike Fred Lewis), has slightly better power than Bengie Molina (yet that won’t translate at AT&T) and cannot play well enough at 1B (the easiest position on the field) to even be considered anything but a DH…you can imagine Jacobs. Shouldn’t the fact that arguably the worst team in the AL (Kansas City Royals) released him also be a clue? Fangraphs actually assigns players a monetary value using a combination of sabermetric offensive and defensive statistics and over the past two seasons Jacobs was worth $-1.3 mil and $-3.3 mil. In other words, having him on the roster was actually detrimental to the team because he could not only be replaced but also the contributions of the replacement (league minimum salaried) could easily exceed those of Jacobs.

This brings me to my next point. Haft mentions that the Giants “…have contacted Jacobs’ agent…” You may now take relief in the fact that he also mentions that interest appears minimal. Brian Sabean has been at the helm of the Giants’ front office for about 14 seasons and became the longest tenured GM at the dismissal of Kevin Towers in San Diego. From 1997-2004 the Giants were one of the winningest franchises in baseball that nearly culminated in a World Series victory in 2002. Sabean even seemed like quite the shrewd executive when he made fantastic trades such as Matt Williams for Jeff Kent and others. But more recently it seems apparent that his magic hand has disintegrated with poor free agents signings (a la Zito, Rowand, Renteria) and worse trades (Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser & Joe Nathan* for A.J. Pierzynski). His teams seem to always be within the handful of the oldest in MLB and it should also be noted that while he was wildly successful during the first 9 years, that shouldn’t give him a pass on the last 5. He did, after all, have the best player in baseball and perhaps the greatest offensive force of all time on his roster during his successful earlier years. This is a classic case of, what have you done for me lately?

*Joe Nathan has been the most dominant closer in Major League Baseball since that trade not named Mariano Rivera. Whoops!

I believe it’s a combination of things that led to the Giants’ demise 2004-2008. Buster Olney recently wrote an article for the January 11th issue of ESPN The Magazine (available now on ESPN Insider) about how Moneyball is here to stay. He notes that in terms of Moneyball, “Rival GMs say the Giants and Mets are the two slowest adapters.” This is absolutely no surprise to me whatsoever. Without going into great detail, the Mets also have made some pretty horrible decisions (this trend will continue if and when they ink Bengie Molina as expected) and ultimately have been unable to sustain continued success despite having far greater financial resources then their division foes and the rest of the NL. Matt Klassen mentions (see below) the Dodgers have similarly had recent success under Sabean’s protégé Ned Colletti with the help of money, not skill. As the rest of baseball adapted to statistical analysis and far better player evaluation Sabean continued to stick with his gut feeling and traditional baseball mindset. To make matters worse, he didn’t put much stock into the amateur draft or spend internationally and thus the Giants first homegrown offensive talent since Will Clark is Buster Posey. Thankfully, this trend has turned 180 degrees and the Giants not only have begun to spend much more on each of these facets of roster assembly but also they have drafted extremely well recently netting Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Giants have plunged themselves into greater statistical analysis and thus many teams around baseball have left them in the dust in that capacity. Matt Klassen of fangraphs made an interesting argument that one of the possible reasons that the AL is a much stronger league than the NL in recent years is the relative skill of the GM’s. He made a list of what he believes to be the 5 best and 5 worst GM’s in baseball. The tallies were: 5 Best = 4 AL, 1 NL and 5 Worst = 1 AL and 4 NL. The worst included the Giants’ very own Brian Sabean as he called these 5, “Murderer’s Row,” but in a much different meaning than the great 1927 Yankee lineup. Read his article here.

To make all these matters worse, not only are the other teams spending more wisely and making far greater decisions based on the way that they value players, but they are also spending more in many cases. This is specifically the case with the Red Sox and Yankees. Theo Epstein is an excellent executive who really knows his stuff when it comes to roster assembly. As it turns out, so too is Brian Cashman now that he was given full power and isn’t the puppet of old George. What’s the major difference? They are working with unlimited resources. The overall quality of their rosters is astonishingly better. The Red Sox and Yankees are running the show, period. What’s more? They can spend more internationally and on the draft. The Pirates are never going to pay to see if Aroldis Chapman is the next Sandy Koufax, but the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox might. And if he does become great, that’s a distinct advantage for the wealthy teams that can afford to take such risks. Any injury or a mistake on a large contract of a player can be devastating to a small market team. The Giants are hampered by Zito and the Jays by Wells. Were those the mistakes of those teams? Absolutely and they have to own them. That being said, if the Yankees make a mistake like that it won’t affect the decisions they make for the next 6 seasons. They see it as a sunken cost and move on. The small market teams carry that burden and it impairs their ability to compete. The Rays had a great season in 2008 in which they made the World Series, but they have to be perfect to sustain a persistent presence in that division. They have all the odds against them, period.

Finally, even the players that are financially attainable to each team often end up with the Red Sox or donning the pinstripes. Why? Because they want to win and when they see the roster being assembled by these powerhouse franchises they can’t help but believe that is their best shot to get the ring. For example, Adrian Beltre just signed with the Red Sox for 1 year and $9 mil with a $1 mil buyout. He was reported to be seeking 4-5 years at $10-15 mil per year. It seems clear he is attempted to reestablish his value but he clearly realizes that playing for a World Series caliber team is the best way to do that while also giving him a very good shot at winning his first title. He would have fit right into the Giants’ lineup providing phenomenal defense and more than likely quality offense after getting out of Safeco. Either he didn’t want to go to SF or Sabean couldn’t realize his value. Either way, the Giants never had a chance. The A’s also had interest but couldn’t meet Beltre’s demands. Could he have been asking for more given the pitcher friendly confines of the Coliseum? Perhaps. But anytime both Epstein and Beane are bidding on a player you can bet whomever they are tugging on is valuable and or undervalued. So too did Nick Johnson jump to the Yankees despite seemingly having more lucrative offers elsewhere. He too would have nicely fit into the Giant’s two hole while providing the ability to get on base, something the Giants so desperately need.

Instead, baseball has become a case study for arbitrage in which several factors are fueling the disparity. A huge part of the problem is money and some of it is executive incompetence. In terms of those who don’t affect the games on the field, the writers covering the game, in general, don’t have a clue and the fans, in general, don’t have a clue. What a mess. Rant over.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Analysis of DeRosa Signing

The Giants made their first significant signing of the offseason last week by singing Mark DeRosa to a 2 year deal worth $12 mil. There seems to be relatively mixed reviews among the San Francisco fans. Those who like the signing probably would argue he must be valuable considering the number of teams that were initially rumored to consider him (something like 10 teams). The thoughts of those who were disgusted by the acquisition are probably driven by the fact that his name isn’t Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, and thus he isn’t the “Big Bat” they were hoping for despite the Giants’ public and continued reminders they were not players for those players. Unfortunately, neither of these quick assumptions and determinations really gets to the bottom of what the Giants got, what they paid for it and most importantly what they can actually expect from Mark DeRosa in 2010.

First off, I can no longer stand to hear another person or writer utter the words “Big Bat.” Maybe it is a way to remember another BB (Barry Bonds) who disappeared after the 2007 season quicker than anyone (especially he and his agent) could ever have imagined. I would like to get something straight. The Giants were not in need of a BB, they were in need of offense. The acquisition of one BB would not have cured the ineptitude of their 2009 lineup. It would, however, have precluded them from making any other improvements to their lineup and resulted in them losing their 2010 1st round draft pick.

In terms of Matt Holliday he was never really an option. If you’ve read my previous analysis of Holliday and the contract he is asking for and likely to be paid, he is and always was out of the Giants’ price range. This is a good thing (not that they cannot afford the top free agent talents but that they didn’t consider Holliday). Bay also seemed determined to avoid the Bay and instead opted for Queens. Many people fail to realize this fact but baseball is a zero sum game. The events play out in all or nothing scenarios until one team wins. People specifically fail to realize that an out on defense is as good as a non-out on offense. In other words, if a player is going to cost a team a number of outs in the field by playing poor defense, it is necessary to discount his offensive statistics to determine his true value. Jason Bay no doubt would have helped the Giants score more runs in 2010. That being said, he also would have no doubt helped each team the Giants play to score more runs in 2010, and 2011 and 2012 and so forth at increasing rates while he ages. Bay has never been a good outfielder even in his younger days and thus you can only expect poorer and poorer defense at advanced ages. Bay, in my personal opinion, is going to look like a player that belongs in the American League as a DH if not by next year or the year after, certainly by the last 2-3 years of his contract. It’s also fair to assume that his offensive production will diminish as he is already outside of his prime years, and thus his utility should slowly diminish over the next few seasons as his stick becomes less and less capable of making up for his ever regressing glove. This also while his yearly salary will likely stay flat (at best) or increase. Speaking of utility, that brings me back to Mark DeRosa.

I’d first like to preface my analysis of DeRosa and this signing by saying the Giants absolutely need more. If they choose to make DeRosa their only significant move, they have accomplished very little to nothing. They will again fail to score enough runs for weeks and weeks at a time, look completely and utterly lost at the plate, contend for a while and then finally settle in 2nd or 3rd place and out of the playoffs.

At 2 years and $6 mil per the Giants have not invested a terrible amount of time and money, which is a good thing when signing a 34 year old player coming off of a wrist injury. Also, the Giants doctors checked out that wrist (which he injured on a Randy Johnson changeup just days after being acquired by the Cardinals from Cleveland) and believe that he will be ready to go by Spring Training. So long as the Giants doctors did a better job assessing DeRosa’s wrist then they did on Freddy Sanchez’s knee I believe that he will be fully healthy by Opening Day as teams evaluations of players’ health are much more often right then they are wrong. What’s also nice about DeRosa other than the reasonableness of the contract is his ability to play multiple positions. DeRosa has played every infield position in his career as well as LF and RF and thus can virtually be plugged into any place the Giants need. This is not only going to be valuable for Bochy as he attempts to create some semblance of an everyday lineup but also during the offseason for the Giants’ GM Brian Sabean. DeRosa gives the Giants the luxury of signing a player or acquiring one via trade at multiple positions. If they acquired an OF he can play 3B. If they acquire a 3B he can play OF (his stronger defensive position it seems). DeRosa is not a defensive wizard or an offensive powerhouse, however, his ability to move around the diamond does have significant value. And while the number of players available begins to dwindle it was important that the Giants upgrade immediate to retain leverage and multiple options.

Obviously and most importantly, it’s vital to determine what impact his bat can have on the lineup. While it’s great he can play all over the Giants foremost need was to upgrade offensively and DeRosa can hit a little bit. His on-base, slugging and on-base plus slugging percentages (OBP/SLG/OPS) over the last few seasons have been… 2006: .357/.456/.812, 2007: .371/.420/.792, 2008: .376/.481/.857. In 2009 he had a slash line of .342/.457/.799 before being traded to the Cardinals and getting injured shortly thereafter. After his injury he wasn’t a very good hitter. That seems understandable assuming (and I am) that it is difficult to hit with a torn wrist tendon sheath. He still managed to hit 23 HR in 2009 which followed the 21 he hit in 2008 with the Cubs. If DeRosa does indeed manage to stay healthy after the surgery to repair his wrist he should be able to provide two things the Giants desperately need, on base percentage and some power. Furthermore, he would be providing it at a cost of ½ that of Aaron Rowand and only a two year commitment. DeRosa is a much more thoughtful hitter that doesn’t mind taking a walk (anti-Bengie) but also has the ability to hit the ball out of the park. Furthermore, he is right handed which makes him much more suited to AT&T.
It does seem that the Giants are continuing to build a nice group of players to increase team chemistry which always seemed to be lacking during the BB era. Mark DeRosa, like many of the Giants of the last couple of seasons, is known as a great clubhouse guy and a leader. While I don’t put a ton of stock such things, I do think they are valuable and having played baseball from 5 years old until I was 20 before I tore my labrum, chemistry does count. And even if it doesn’t, a good clubhouse guy certainly isn’t going to hurt. I really do think this is a quality (while not a slam dunk) signing and one which doesn’t cost them a draft pick. The Giants should in no way be near done, though. If San Francisco attempts to settle there and do nothing more, the fans have every right to boycott the games until management realizes that fans will always come out to see the beautiful AT&T and watch Panda hit and Lincecum pitch, but they will only come in droves when they get a winner.